Book Review: “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg

61QD1AenNQL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_The study of the Tudors tends to focus on England as a country of focus, however the Tudors did affect other countries like Spain, France, and Scotland. Many know the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her relationship with Elizabeth I, but many do not know the tale of her mother, Marie de Guise. Her tale is one of love for her family and her adoptive country of Scotland. It is of loyalty and strength to do what she believed was right. She was a sister, a daughter, a mother, a queen, and a regent of Scotland. Marie’s story tends to be overshadowed by her daughter’s tragic tale, until now.  Her story is the main focus of Melanie Clegg’s latest biography, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this pleasant biography. I knew quite a bit about her daughter, but Marie de Guise is just as remarkable and deserves to be told. 

Clegg begins her biography in the most unusual way, but starting with the death of King James V, Marie de Guise’s second husband. This event, as Clegg will show, radically alters the path that Marie will take. Of course, Marie’s life took many turns, even from her early years. Marie de Guise was the eldest daughter of Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise and Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Guise. Her family, the Lorraines, were extremely close and very loyal to King Francois I of France, especially her father Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise. Clegg  explores Marie’s formative years, both with her paternal grandmother Philippa de Geulders, Dowager Duchesse de Lorraine, and inside the glamorous court of Francois I, and how both experiences shaped Marie into the remarkable woman she would become. 

It was truly a twist of fate that Marie de Guise would marry King James V of Scotland, who was her second husband. Marie was first married to Louis d’Orleans, Duc de Longueville and King James V was married to Princess Madeleine. However, both Louis and Madeleine died rather young, so Marie and James V both had to look for new spouses. James V wanted a French marriage, but he was not the only monarch who was looking for a bride. His uncle King Henry VIII just lost his third wife to illness and was trying to woo Marie. To say things did not go Henry’s way would be an understatement as Marie became Queen of Scotland. 

It was in Scotland where we see Marie’s true colors come out in full force. Clegg shows that although Marie loved James, things were not smooth sailing as they would have hoped. Marie’s daughter Mary Stewart, later Mary Queen of Scots, was born only a few days before her father’s untimely death shortly after the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. Such a triumph turned tragedy would have been agonizing for anyone to deal with, but Marie de Guise knew that she had to stay strong for her daughter. As Regent of Scotland, until Mary came of age, Marie did battle, both physical and spiritual, with every Tudor monarch, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. 

This book was a joy to read. Melanie Clegg was able to make a biography read like a novel, yet stay informative and academic. I did not know what to expect, since this was the first book by Melanie Clegg that I have ever read, but from page one I was hooked. This was the first biography about Marie de Guise that I have ever read and now I want to read more about her. If you would like to read an engaging biography about Mary, Queen of Scots vivacious mother Marie de Guise, I highly recommend you read, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg.

Book Review: “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler

9781445690537 (1)Words have a lot of power, especially when it comes to how we perceive historical figures. It can be through letters, chronicles, biographies, and this instance, through a couplet written by William Collynbourne in 1484. The couplet in question goes; “The Catte, the Ratte, and Lovell Our Dogge Rule All England Under the Hogge”. The Catte and the Ratte refer to two men; Sir William Ratcliffe and Sir William Catsby respectively, who were associated with King Richard III, whose badge was a white boar or a hog. “Lovell our Dogge” refers to Sir Francis Lovell, who was an ally and close friend of the king. Who was Sir Francis Lovell and how did he become Richard III’s closest friend? Michele Schindler dives into the life of Sir Francis Lovell to figure out who he really was in her debut biography, “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this fascinating biography. I knew about the couplet, but I never knew about Sir Francis Lovell and his remarkable life. 

Schindler begins her beautiful biography with the birth of Francis and his twin sister Joan. It is very unusual to read about twins especially in medieval England so it was interesting to read how this affected how they were raised. We are also introduced to the rest of the Lovell family,  finding out the origins of the family, and learn how noble children like Francis and Joan were raised. This part is important in understanding Francis and his loyalties because it is at this time when he was introduced to the Yorkists who would change his life; Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, King Edward IV, and Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III. It is also in these formative years that Francis marries his loyal and loving wife Anne (Fitzhugh) Lovell. It is great to have a firm foundation when understanding a historical figure and Schindler provides the reader that foundation.

The center of Schindler’s book is Francis’ relationship with his best friend, Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would become King Richard III. It is a unique relationship because if you only know about Francis through the couplet, it makes Sir Francis Lovell sound like someone who desired power. In fact, documents provided by Schindler suggests quite the opposite. He was rather quiet when it came to politics, even though he held quite prominent roles in Richard III’s government. His loyalty to Richard III never faltered, even after the king’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Francis helped with several rebellions, the most famous one was the Lambert Simnel Rebellion, even though he was not noted to have taken part. 

Sir Francis Lovell’s life was complex yet he remains an enigma for scholars of the Wars of the Roses. Schindler masterfully blends an eloquent writing style with meticulously researched details to create this illuminating biography. Before I started this book, I only knew about Sir Francis Lovell through the famous couplet, but now I want to know more about him and his family. This maybe Schindler’s debut biography, but I look forward to reading more books by her in the future. If you would like an engaging biography about a man who was central in the government of Richard III, I highly suggest you check out, “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler.

“Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler will be available in the United States on October 1st. If you would like to pre-order a copy of this book, please follow the link below: https://www.amazon.com/Lovell-our-Dogge-Viscount-Regicide/dp/1445690535/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Lovell+our+Dogge%3A+The+Life+of+Viscount+Lovell%2C+Closest+Friend+of+Richard+III+and+Failed+Regicide&qid=1567661947&s=gateway&sr=8-1

 

Book Review: “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton

51qnw6zqydL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Henry VII  winning at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, is viewed as the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty. However, the story of the Tudor family goes back centuries in Wales. What we consider the story of the Tudors tends to start with a man named Owen Tudor, a servant, who fell in love and married the dowager Queen of England, Catherine of Valois. Quite a romantic tale, but how much of it is true? Were the Tudors simple folk or did they have a bigger role to play in their native Wales? What roles did Owen and his sons play in the Wars of the Roses? These questions and more are explored in Terry Breverton’s latest biography, “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this fascinating biography. Owen Tudor is someone that has always interested me, so I was quite delighted to find out that Breverton had written the first biography about this extraordinary man and his life. 

Breverton begins by exploring the origins of the Tudors and how the Welsh bards were the ones who helped preserve the history and prophecies of Wales for future generations. One such prophecy was the prophecy of Cadwaladr, which speaks of the red dragon of Cadwaladr defeating the white dragons of those who the Welsh considered barbarians. It was also the Welsh who believed that a mab darogan (“the son of prophecy”) would conquer England. Breverton must discuss these ideas because they would help the Tudors gather support that was necessary for future victories. Breverton also discusses the history of Wales and England and the Glyndwr War. He explores the Tudor family tree and how Owen Tudor’s ancestors were very influential in the decisions that Wales made in these critical years. I found this part extremely fascinating to read because casual readers of the Wars of the Roses do not read about Welsh history and the Tudor ancestors, which is vital to understand how they were able to come out victorious in the end.

Breverton also explores the family history of Catherine of Valois and how she came to marry  King Henry V and her relationship with her first son, King Henry VI. However, the center of Breverton’s book is centered around the relationship between Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. He describes it as the “strangest marriage in English history”, but unlike other scholars, Breverton believes that an actual marriage did happen between Owen and Catherine. Their sons, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, would prove extremely important men during the Wars of the Roses, and tried to bridge the gap between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Breverton was able to track down where Owen was during his service during the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses through his sons and through government records of the time, until his death shortly after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, on February 4, 1461. The one thing I wish Breverton would have included were maps of Wales, England, and France so it would be easier to understand which towns fell and where battles were fought.

Breverton does a superb job shedding light on Owen Tudor’s fascinating life and legacy. It was an absolute joy to read, I didn’t want it to end. This was my first time reading a book by Terry Breverton and now I want to read more of his books. Breverton blends an easy to understand writing style while maintaining scrupulous attention to details. You can tell that Breverton meticulously researched Owen Tudor and the events that shaped him. This may be the first biography about Owen Tudor, but I don’t think it will be the last. If you want to read a fabulous biography about Owen Tudor and the origins of the Tudor Dynasty, I highly encourage you to read “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton. 

“Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton will be published in the US on November 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order a copy of this book, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Owen-Tudor-Founding-Father-Dynasty/dp/1445694379/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Owen+Tudor+Founding+Father+of+the+Tudor+Dynasty&qid=1566589023&s=books&sr=1-1

Book Review: “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley

51+Uk6sMNqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)In history, many people tend to focus on the big names. The kings and queens, the rebels, and those who really made an impact. The political advisors and men of the church tend to get left behind in the dust since they are not seen as “important”. However, it is these men who were the backbone of the monarchy, who helped make the king’s vision come to fruition. They tend to come and go, so that is why John Morton’s story is so extraordinary. John Morton helped three separate kings of England, was the enemy to a fourth king, tried to reform the church, and had numerous building projects. His life tends to be overshadowed by the kings that he served, but his life is brought into the light in this biography by Stuart Bradley, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Morton’s life and his service to the kings he served was rather fascinating to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Like any good biography, Bradley begins by exploring John Morton’s life before he moved up the ranks to work with kings through his collegiate career, which was rather impressive. It is imperative to understand Morton’s education and background to show what type of skills he brought to the political and ecclesiastical positions that he would have later on in his life. Morton caught the eye of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourgchier, who helped Morton get into his position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall, which put him in direct contact with Prince Edward of Westminster, Queen Margaret of Anjou, and King Henry VI. He served King Henry VI until his death in 1471. 

Morton could have decided to live as an exile during the reign of Edward IV, but instead, he accepted a royal pardon and decided to work with the Yorkist king. This may seem like an unusual step for a man who was once loyal to the Lancasterian cause, but Morton was loyal to his country first and foremost. During this time, he helped establish peace with France and became the Bishop of Ely. When Edward IV died and his sons disappeared from records, Morton could have retired, since he was in his mid-sixties at this point, but instead, he leads a rebellion against King Richard III, with young Henry Tudor as his choice for the next king. Morton helped arrange for Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York to be married, as well as help Henry VII stop the pretenders from taking the English throne. Under King Henry VII, Morton worked non-stop as both Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, to guide the king and to ensure the survival of the dynasty, until his death in 1500.

It is remarkable to see how much Morton did during his lifetime in politics, for the church, and the building projects. Morton was one of those figures that I honestly did not know a lot about before I read this book, but now I want to know more about him. Bradley obviously thoroughly researched Morton’s life and times and is able to articulate this research in this engaging biography. If you want a fantastic biography about a rather remarkable man who helped England navigate through the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, I highly recommend you read, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley.

Book Review: “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’” by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill

A1EHw9PpVwLThe English conflict known as the Wars of the Roses is filled with dynamic figures whose stories are those of legends. None more so than the wife of Edward IV and the mother of Elizabeth of York and the princes in the Tower, Elizabeth Woodville. She has been known in popular culture as the commoner turned “White Queen” consort, but do we really know the true story about her life? Was she really Edward IV’s wife? How much influence did she actually carry? These questions and more are tackled in Dr. John Ashdown-Hill’s latest book, “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have had my eyes on this particular title for a while since I like learning about the women of the Wars of the Roses, and because I have never read a book by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill.

Since I was not familiar with Dr. John Ashdown-Hill and his work before I read this book, I decided to look into him in order to understand the position he might take on this particular topic. He is a medieval historian, who mainly focuses on Yorkist history. His main claim to fame was when he helped find the location where Richard III’s remains were buried. He also traced the female-line descendants of Richard III to his sister, which established the mtDNA haplogroup that was necessary to identify the remains found in the Leicester parking lot as Richard III. For this important research, Dr. John Ashdown-Hill was awarded an MBE in 2015 but sadly passed away from motor neurone disease on May 18, 2018. This was one of the last books he had ever written.

Knowing this information about Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, it helps to understand that he knows this subject rather well. He does show his knowledge through the family trees, the letters, and the tables that he does include. These sources give the reader an understanding of where Ashdown-Hill is coming from and a different perspective on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times in the courts of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Ashdown-Hill does use his own books quite frequently as sources, which can come across as braggadocious at times.

Ashdown-Hill refers to Elizabeth Widville as the ‘Pink Queen’ because, at different times in her life, she was supporting the Lancastrians and the Yorkists causes. I do agree with this terminology because it does tell her story in a colorful way. However, it is his calling Elizabeth Edward IV’s ‘chief mistress’ where I do have an issue. Personally, I believe that Elizabeth was Edward’s wife, but Ashdown-Hill believes that Edward’s pre-contract with one Eleanor Talbot was valid and that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was bigamous. This is a central point in this book, but he does not really go into the depth that I wished he would have gone into to explain his point of view.

Another part of his book that I do not exactly agree with is his assessment of how many deaths Elizabeth was associated with, including possibly poisoning George Duke of Clarence’s wife and young son. He does not take into account illnesses as possible causes of death and jumps straight into malicious intentions, mostly by Elizabeth herself. Ashdown- Hill can come across as either passionate or brash in his writing style, which can be a bit off-putting at times. It feels like, at least to me, that Elizabeth was either treated as a villain or was in the background for this particular biography, instead of in the spotlight, which is something one would expect in a biography about a certain person.

Although I do not entirely agree with Dr. John Ashdown- Hill’s assessment of Elizabeth Widville’s life, I do respect the amount of research he obviously poured into this book. It is meticulously researched and I found it a unique experience to read a different perspective from my own. I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of this book, as I did have to stop reading it and come back to it several times to get my head around what he was saying since it was different than what I accept as fact about her life. However, I do believe that it is important to read books and authors who you don’t agree with in order to expand one’s knowledge about a topic. If you are a fan of Dr. John Ashdown-Hill or you would like to read a unique take on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times, I would suggest you read “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’”.

Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’ by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill will be published in the United States on November 2, 2019. If you are interested in pre-ordering this book, you can follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Mistress/dp/1526745011/

Book Review: “Richard III: Fact and Fiction” by Matthew Lewis

41093351When one looks at the study of history as a whole, the traditional way to look at a person as either good or bad through a combination of facts and fictional tales of their supposed exploits. None so much so as King Richard III, one of the most controversial English monarchs. Fictitious tales, like William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, have been accepted as fact throughout the centuries, but who was the real Richard III? Matthew Lewis, in his latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”, explores who Richard III really was by separating the facts from the fictional stories. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this insightful book. I enjoy books that explore both the facts and fictional stories of historical figures to find the truth about who they were and what they might have been like. 

In his introduction, Lewis explains the fascination of Richard III and his aim for this particular book.

The debate around Richard III and his reputation burns hotter today than ever before …Why is a man who was killed in battle over 500 years ago still attracting such passionate debate? How does a medieval king who reigned for only just over two years have a thriving fan club in the Richard III Society? Part of the reason lies in the mythologising of the facts about him, so many of which are open to the broadest interpretation so that both sides will claim them to make polar opposite points. The purpose of this book is to try and peel away some of the myths to reveal the bare, unadorned facts. Did Richard III invent bail? Did he murder a Lancastrian Prince of Wales, a king, his brother and his two nephews? Did he mean to marry his niece? Why did those previously loyal to the House of York abandon Richard III for an obscure Welshman in exile? (Lewis,1).

Lewis tackles some of the most notable and notorious myths about Richard III, most of which came from Shakespeare’s play. He explores myths from the “murder” of the Princes in the Tower and Henry VI, to if Richard wanted to marry Elizabeth of York and why he was so popular in the North and his death at Bosworth. Of course, there are also obscure and out-of-left-field myths, like Richard, killing Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset at the tender age of 2 and a half, and Richard inventing bail. Along with discussing the fictional stories and the veracity of the claims, Lewis includes some fun factoids and a glossary of terms that the readers might not know at the end of each segment.  

Although Lewis is a Ricardian, the way he presents his arguments against the fictitious tales does not push the Ricardian argument of Richard being a purely innocent individual. Instead, Lewis focuses on making Richard more human rather than either a vile villain or a knight in shining armor. This is what I appreciate about Lewis and his approach to Richard III. He makes the study of  Richard III approachable for those who want to study about the man, not the black or white myths. With this particular book, I couldn’t put it down. I found extremely enjoyable and overall fascinating. If you want a book that brings the fictional tales and examining the facts about Richard III, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’ latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”. It is a re-evaluation of the facts that Richard III deserves.

Book Review: “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy

43211731 (1)Strong medieval women who helped lead armies were unusual phenomena. Women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and  Margaret of Anjou, have been seen as “she-wolves” and their stories have lived on for centuries. They were all queens, but strong women from the past could be of any rank, even though their stories are not celebrated as much. Take, for example, the story of Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany. She was a wife and mother who protected Hennebont Castle in Brittany from the French in 1342 while her husband was held captive. She then leaves her beloved Brittany for the court of Edward III of England and all but disappears from the historical record until her death in 1374. What happened to this extraordinary woman and why did she disappear from the historical records? Julie Sarpy answers these questions and more in her book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Before I read this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Joanna of Flanders or the part she played in protecting Brittany from France.

In the past, historians, especially Arthur Le Moyne de La Borderie,  have claimed that Joanna was held in confinement by Edward III because she went “mad”. However, Sarpy does not agree with this assessment of her life and she hopes to change that view with this book, as she explains in her introduction:

This book strives to set the record straight about Joanna of Flanders through a fresh reading of legal and administrative records, narrative accounts and comparative studies. It seeks to reveal the pretense behind her guardianship and the means by which Edward III of England perpetrated a hoax. I have tried to separate the facts from fiction and reconcile the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life after October 1343 when she retired to Yorkshire with the known record. Centrally, it is an attempt to demonstrate that her captivity at the hands of Edward III was purposeful and politically motivated. Unfortunately, since then, some authors have been complicit in the sullying of her reputation by claiming she was incarcerated due to mental defect and I seek to correct that. (Sarpy, 10). 

Sarpy introduces her readers to the complex relationship between Brittany, France, and England, as well as the de Montforts and the Blois- Penthievre faction that all played a part in the First Breton Civil War. It is these relationships that are crucial to understanding the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life. The siege of Hennebont showed Joanna as a threat to Edward III’s plans for Brittany, so he had to do something about her. Joanna takes her children to England and Edward III will eventually send her to Tickhill Castle. Sarpy explores mental illness, the medieval laws towards protecting them and about the confinement of the nobility. What Sarpy does very well is that she shows examples of legal cases as well as those who were mad and compared their stories to Joanna’s own story. 

Sarpy’s book contains a ton of information, both historical and legal, but it is relatively easy to understand. As I stated earlier, I didn’t know anything about Joanna of Flanders before I read this book and I did take copious amounts of notes. This book tells the story of Joanna of Flanders in such a way that those who are not familiar with her legacy can understand, yet it also sheds new light for those who knew her story beforehand. Julie Sarpy’s book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” was an enlightening read and I recommend it to those who are interested in learning about Joanna of Flanders, Edward III, the early years of the Hundred Years’ War, and mental illness and confinement in medieval Europe. 

“Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy will be released in the US on October 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order this book, you can find more information here: https://www.amazon.com/Joanna-Flanders-Heroine-Julie-Sarpy/dp/1445688549/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Joanna+of+Flanders%3A+Heroine+and+Exile&qid=1562077490&s=digital-text&sr=1-1-catcorr

 

Book Review: “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals” by Amy Licence

9188WGCCbpLHistorically, royal marriages have been viewed with such interest. A king and a queen who can come from either similar or different backgrounds in order to make their country better, or in some cases, worse. During the Wars of the Roses, there were some legendary relationships that shaped the war between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville. Richard III and Anne Neville. Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. However, these relationships fail in comparison to the impact that the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had on England during this time. Henry VI was seen as a weak, pious ruler; Margaret was seen as too strong for a woman. They have been viewed separately for a long time, never as a couple. That is until Amy Licence wrote her latest biography, “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this lovely book. I have always been fascinated by Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou so this book was a delight to read.

In her introduction, Licence explains how Henry and Margaret have been viewed in the past, separately and as a couple.

Little attention has been given to Henry and Margaret as a pair, in terms of their marriage, their life together and their joint rule. This is partly because less evidence survives about their intimate relationship, leading it to be reduced to a few simple anecdotes about Margaret being already a woman at the time of her marriage and Henry’s reputed prudery…. Contemporary and subsequent historians have exploited a far more subtle relationship dynamic to undermine Henry and Margaret as individuals, as a couple and as rulers, by playing on fifteenth-century gender expectations…. Almost six hundred years after Henry’s birth, the time is right for a reappraisal of their lives and marriage, which has no need to adhere to strict cultural codes about gender, but can use them as a starting point to deconstruct the identities of two atypical individuals. (Licence, x)

Licence starts her biography by exploring the lives of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou before they became husband and wife. They had very different upbringings. Henry was the son of Henry, the strong warrior King,  and Catherine of Valois. He was declared King of England and France at a very young age since his father died while he was a few months old. Margaret was the daughter of Rene of Anjou, who was a king without a kingdom. Their union seems very unlikely, but it worked rather well, although there were some in England who wasn’t exactly thrilled for the royal couple.

It wasn’t until the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses broke out that we see how strong the relationship between Henry and Margaret truly was. Henry was weaker than his father Henry V and he did suffer from some sort of mental illness, so Margaret had to step in to help take care of him and their son while defending the throne from the Yorkists. They had to make tough choices, but Henry and Margaret did them together. Licence shows the dynamic of this relationship, not only by using English sources but by using reports from foreign ambassadors. Reading these sources allows the reader to understand that Henry and Margaret were more complex individuals than what we see in history books.

Licence presents a fresh new look at this power couple. Henry and Margaret’s story is one of love and heartache, full of both joy and struggles.  Henry might have been a weaker medieval king than his father and Margaret might have been a bit stronger than most medieval women, but that is what makes them so unique. This book packed a lot of wonderful information in it about not only their relationship, but the Wars of the Roses, and the cult of Henry VI which formed after his death. It was an absolute pleasure to read. I did not want to put this book down.  I highly recommend that you have “Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals” by Amy Licence in your personal library if you are interested in Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and the Wars of the Roses.

Book Review: “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence

61lJBy4FGrL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I, is one of the unique characters of the Tudor era. She was the sister of one of the king’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, which she could have been, but Henry wanted Anne as his queen. Unfortunately, he was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It is Henry’s divorce to Catherine and his relationship with Anne, the rise and fall, is what many people look at, but there is more to Anne’s story than just her life with Henry. What was Anne’s life really like and what really caused her fall? These are just a few questions that Amy Licence tackles in her latest biography, “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire.”

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review. I haven’t read many biographies about Anne Boleyn so this was a unique experience.

In her introduction, Amy Licence explains her approach to Anne’s life and why she is such an interesting figure to study:

Anne’s is very much a Tudor story, a narrative that balances on the cusp of old and new, equally informed by both. It has been told many times before, but what this version aims to offer afresh is a sense of continuity with earlier Boleyn generations. She was born into an ambitious dynasty, with each generation taking a step forward in terms of career and martial advancements…. That she was the most successful Boleyn cannot be disentangled from her gender and class. By the definitions of her time, Anne was an overreacher in more than one sense. She was a woman, born to be a wife, but not that of the king. She was an aristocrat, descended from the influential Howards, observing but not trained in the demands of queenship. She transcended boundaries of expected behaviour on both counts, which was both her most remarkable achievement and created her two areas of greatest vulnerability. This account of Anne’s life prioritises her relationship with the defining issues of gender and class, tracing their role in her rise and fall. (Licence, 8).

Licence begins her biography by going back to the origins of the Boleyn family, with Anne’s ancestor, Geoffrey Boleyn. Geoffrey came from very humble beginnings, but he worked hard and rose to become the Lord Mayor of London, as well as a knight. His descendants continued this tradition of working hard, which Licence takes the time to explain thoroughly so that the reader can understand that they were not necessarily overreachers; they were hard workers. This background information is extremely helpful to understand the Boleyn family as a whole.

The main focus of Licence’s book is  Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII, her husband. By including the letters between Anne and Henry, the reader can see how the relationship started and how their relationship ended in a dramatic fashion. Henry was the one who really took control of the relationship.  Anne may have learned how to be a strong woman from working in the French court, but she was no match for Henry VIII.

Although there have been many biographies about Anne Boleyn, this one stands out because Anne is seen in more of a sympathetic light. Licence combines a plethora of details with a writing style that is easy to understand to bring Anne out of the dark side of history. I learned so much about a queen I thought I knew.“Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence was an absolute delight to read. It is a real page-turner and is a must for anyone who loves to read about the Tudors, the wives of Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn.

Book Review: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ by Heather R. Darsie

61mfurP7xALThe wives of Henry VIII are some of the most hotly-discussed women of the Tudor Dynasty. They all had unique lives and origins before and after they met the man that connects them all. Two of his brides, Catherine of Aragon and Anna, Duchess of Cleves, were foreign princesses and their marriages were used to create alliances with Spain and Germany respectfully. While Catherine of Aragon and the rest of the wives of Henry VIII get a ton of attention, Anna Duchess of Cleves tends to be brushed aside. She is often seen as the wife that Henry did not approve of because of her looks. However, Heather R. Darsie decided to change how we view Anna with her groundbreaking debut biography, “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Anna, Duchess of Cleves has been one of those women who I wanted to learn more about, so I was very excited to read a biography about her.  

Anna’s story is often told through the English perspective, but it does not tell the entire story. Anna was born in Germany so it makes sense to tell her story using both English and German sources. Darsie explains her approach to this book and her purpose for writing her biography of Anna in the way she does:

Anna’s life and experiences from the German experiences are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. This is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that the German sources help make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539. It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers. (Darsie, 8-9).

Darsie brings a fresh new perspective to Anna’s life by explaining her foundations and her family in the German court. This is critical for understanding what kind of woman Anna was like and why the marriage between Anna and Henry was necessary. We are introduced to Anna’s family; her mother Maria, her brother Wilhelm, and her sisters Sybylla and Amalia, who all play a crucial role in shaping the path Anna’s life will take. Anna’s family had a huge influence in German and European politics and the decisions that they made will shape not only German history but European history forever. This was also the start of the Protestant Reformation and the battle between Lutheranism and Catholicism ensues with Anna’s family caught directly in the middle.

This book is an eye-opening read. By exploring the political and religious factors of the time, as well as the German and English primary sources, Darsie is able to tell a complete story of Anna, Duchess of Cleves. She was not just some footnote in history. She was a strong, independent German princess who was doing what she could in order to survive. Darsie’s engaging writing style combined with her knowledge of not only German history but legal documents which shaped the agreements of Henry and Anna’s relationship as well as the understanding of the religious conflicts of the time, blend together masterfully to create a stunning debut. “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie is an absolute game-changer when it comes to studying the marriage between Henry VIII and his fourth wife Anna Duchess of Cleves and I highly recommend Tudor fans to read this book. This may be Heather R. Darsie’s first book, but I look forward to reading more of her books.

 

“Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie will be published in the US on July 1, 2019.

If you are interested in pre-ordering the book for the US, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister/dp/1445677105